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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Intermission

We interrupt the regularly scheduled programming for a comment from Klaus:

The REAL irony is that fundamentalists would now be faulted for being rationalists. Conservative Christians were accused by theological liberals in the 19th and 20th centuries of not having a rational basis for their faith and system of beliefs. In response, fundamentalists spend the better part of the 20th century constructing a fairly rigorous rational and intellectual system. They took what they thought were the fundamental propositions and developed a framework in support of those propositions. Along the way they were tagged with the term “Fundamentalists”. That liberals would now embrace the “mystery” of the faith (per Schaffer’s quote) for which they once faulted fundamentalists, is a further irony. It is perhaps a sign of just how successful were the fundamentalist theologians.

As a side note, a lot in this debate depends on how you define liberalism, relativism and fundamentalism. In the context of modern, post-Reformation Christianity, “liberalism” has been used to describe the theological movement that embraces a low view of scripture, moral relativism, religious pluralism and anti-supernatural rationalism. “Fundamentalist” is used to describe a more “conservative” and evangelical brand of Christian theology that embraces the inerrancy of scripture, moral and epistemological absolutes and the exclusivist claims of historical, orthodox Christianity.

Wikipedia puts it this way:
Fundamentalist Christianity, or Christian Fundamentalism, in the scope of this particular article, refers to the movement which arose mainly within American Protestantism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by conservative evangelical Christians, who, in a reaction to modernism, actively affirmed a "fundamental" set of Christian beliefs: the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the authenticity of his miracles. This core set of beliefs was the "line in the sand" drawn by conservative Christians as they battled against the rise of rationalism, higher biblical criticism, and liberalism within Protestant denominations.

For the most part this is correct. (More recently, the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” have become synonymous to some. Certainly, for those opposed to orthodox Christianity, “evangelicals” have often been tagged as “fundamentalists” in an attempt to poison the well.)

My first reaction to the pastor is that anyone who thinks that fundamentalism in Christianity is more dangerous than liberalism hasn’t studied the history of Christianity since the Reformation. After the “liberal” paradigm shift of the Reformation, Christian congregations/denominations/churches that have drifted towards theological liberalism (and its inevitably embrace of moral, cultural and religious relativism) have always drifted away from Christianity and Christ. One of the best examples of this is Europe, where theological liberalism has dominated for 200 years. It is no coincidence that Christianity in Europe has almost ceased to exist. The second good example is the American Northeast, where liberal theology eventually crowded out first Reformed Puritan and later fundamentalist theology. After a few generations, the churches themselves mostly died out and Christianity ceased to impact the culture.

On the other side of the spectrum, congregations/denominations/churches that have embraced theological fundamentalism have been much more successful, both in terms of raw numbers and in terms of their impact on society. Generally speaking, the more liberal mainstream denominations have been losing members while the more conservative/fundamentalist denominations have been growing. Certainly the success of Baptists in the American South is a relevant example. The PCA is another example. While not “fundamentalist” per se in the historical sense, the theology of the PCA is much closer in many regards to fundamentalist theology than to liberal theology. Indeed, the PCA was founded in reaction to the perceived theological liberalism of the PCUSA.

History tells me that theological liberalism is a much greater danger to Christianity than theological fundamentalism. Theological liberalism leads inevitably towards the secularization of Christianity, Christian theology and the Church. Worst of all it eventually contributes to the elimination of Christianity from society. Theological fundamentalism has many faults but it provides a thriving base of Christians ready and willing to impact society for the kingdom of God. It seems to me that if you believe Christianity should touch all areas of culture and the world, then fundamentalism provides a much better route than liberalism.

All this being said, I look forward reading about Dignan’s “third way”.

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